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US government watchdog: health chief Becerra violated Hatch Act

FILE PHOTO-U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra attends a virtual event on securing access to reproductive and other health care services at the first meeting of the interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access in the Ind

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra violated the Hatch Act by expressing support for Democratic Senator Alex Padilla’s re-election at a public event last year, a U.S. government watchdog said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel report cited Becerra’s comments that he intended to vote for Padilla while speaking at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus dinner in September in his official capacity as having “mixed his personal electoral preference with official remarks.”

Becerra, President Joe Biden’s top health official, acknowledged his comments but said they were unintentional.

“While I did not realize at the time that my off-the-cuff remarks concerning my personal voting intentions were in violation of the Hatch Act, I now understand why they were not permitted,” he said in a statement included in the report.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from using their official capacity to affect or interfere with elections, although some other political activities are allowed.

The report was sent to Biden, a Democrat, for “appropriate action.”

Representatives for the White House could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Office of the Special Counsel, an independent agency, can make recommendations but does not have the authority to enforce them.

It previously cited U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for comments she made in a magazine interview last year.

Under former Republican President Donald Trump, the office also cited top administration officials for violations and called for one, Kellyanne Conway, to be removed from office.



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